Owned by Oswego’s entrepreneur Joe Murabito and his wife, Baldwinsville vineyards on track to grow
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
In the perspective of 20/20 hindsight, starting a winery in the middle of the pandemic was probably a terrible idea. In 2020, who could imagine that the effects of the pandemic would last long?
Yet for Joseph Murabito, president of Strigo Vineyards in Baldwinsville, it is working out.
“We started very strong before there was COVID present. Upstate wasn’t hit like a lot of businesses,” Murabito said. “There was COVID around, but CNY wasn’t hit that hard.”
By October and November of 2020, business was strong—a good sign he was on the right track with the winery and restaurant. But through the middle of March, “It was slow and unpredictable,” Murabito said. “We managed to limp through that.”
Winter weather, wearing masks and “the fear factor,” he said, all played roles in slowing his business, which has been brisk all summer.
He credits the culinary talents of Jeff Deloff, the business’ chef, as one of the big draws for Strigo, along with the wide selection of wine.
Despite the struggles of the pandemic, some of the necessary restrictions have proven helpful for the business. Like some other restaurants, Strigo moved to a reservations-only policy to help promote smaller, safer crowds.
“That lent well to a quiet, intimate space for people who are dining,” Murabito said.
Overall, the slower start helped Murabito get his feet wet with operating a restaurant. He operates Elemental Management Group in Oswego, a financial management company that specializes in skilled nursing facilities. His wife and business partner, Ana Maria Murabito, is the accounts payable manager there. He also operates five senior living facilities in the area.
“Healthcare is a service-oriented business,” Murabito said. “You’re here for people. There is some carryover there. You’re there to improve people’s quality of life whether they’re here enjoying a meal or they’re receiving care.”
The restaurant is open Thursday through Saturday for dinner and Sunday for brunch instead of every evening. That has helped the new restaurateur figure out what works and what doesn’t.
As another revenue stream, Strigo has hosted weddings and small parties, which has proven successful. Murabito has brought in live music to enhance the ambiance. Providing farm-to-table dining also appeals to customers.
He has 10 of his 70 acres planted in grapes. Local crop farmers lease 35 acres suitable for cultivation.
Murabito has been making wine for 18 years. This fall, he hopes to harvest his own grapes to make wine for Strigo. Unlike some wineries, Strigo isn’t just about attracting patrons to buy Joseph Murabito’s wine. He is glad to sell others’ vino.
“It’s about making wine accessible,” he said.
He thinks that wine has become too pretentious for many people to access comfortably. By offering it through the 32 taps on his wine wall, patrons can try new varieties they have not sampled before without the intimidation of a wine list.
“They can decide what they like about it,” Murabito said. “I don’t think there will ever be a sommelier here. It pushes wine into a place that’s less accessible. We’re normal people who like good food and wine.”
He and Ana Maria enjoy traveling and have enjoyed visiting “non-touristy” farms.
“That’s what suits us best and a lot of times, the quality is better,” he noted.
He also offers AirBnB accommodations for up to 14 on the premises in the farmhouse with the hopes of making Strigo a destination.
In addition to financial sustainability, Murabito also wants to make the business environmentally sustainable. Most of the facility’s power comes from a half-acre of solar panels on the grounds. West Gen of Los Angeles installed the panels and a 50kilowatt hybrid battery. On most days, Strigo can run off the grid, although in winter, Murabito uses some diesel-generated power for the 2,000 square-foot farmhouse and 7,000-foot tasting room. He hopes to install another 10 acres of solar arrays to use and sell back to the power company.
He admits that the “green” aspect is very marketable. However, going solar is practical as it saves him money on powering the operation.
It is difficult to estimate his savings since he hasn’t had the solar panels for an entire year. While summer is sunnier, it also requires air conditioning. Murabito plans to continue insulating his buildings to make them more energy efficient.
“There were days where we were net positive and other days where we needed some,” he said.
About seven employees work at Strigo.
“It was never meant to be a primary source of income but a quality-of-life balancing feature,” Murabito said. “If the facility is sustaining itself and I can provide employment to people and a good dining experience, wine and a gathering space, the goal is that it can continue to grow.”